Will the DRC and Zambia finally settle their border dispute?

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Tuesday, 31 August 2021 07:23

On the road to the Kasumbalesa border post, which leads to Zambia, in the rich mining province of Katanga, DRC. Gwenn DUBOURTHOUMIEU/JA

Demarcation work has resumed on 20 August on the contentious dispute between DRC and Zambia. Could this be the final push to resolving the decades-old fight?

Since then, Congolese and Zambian experts have been carrying out new demarcation work on the border between the DRC and Zambia. The problem lies with the almost 200km between Lakes Moero and Tanganyika.

In 1996, and again in 2006 and 2016, armies from the two countries were involved in numerous incidents. More recently, the DRC accused Zambia in May 2020 of demonstrating “a desire to annex part of its territory”, claiming that Zambian soldiers had been stationed, since March, within Kubanga, Kalubamba, Libondwe, Moliro and Minyenye, located in Tanganyika province.

Fighting broke out, resulting in two casualties. This upsurge in tension was at the heart of discussions between presidents Félix Tshisekedi and Denis Sassou Nguesso, who met the following July in Congo-Brazzaville.

Blurred border

Will the two parties finally manage to settle their dispute? The border, which former colonial powers Belgium (for the DRC) and Britain (for Zambia) drew at the end of the 19th century, has continuously been contested and proven to be unclear.

In August 1982, the Congolese and Zambians agreed to set up a ‘mixed special commission’ in Gbadolite. Thanks to this commission’s efforts, a treaty was signed between presidents Mobutu Sese Seko and Kenneth Kaunda on 18 September 1989.

This agreement was supposed to put an end to the feud, but it had the opposite effect. The two countries continued to “misunderstand the exact line of the border,” says Camille Ngoma Khuabi, director of cross-border cooperation at the Commission Congolaise des Frontières.

“A bridge between two countries”

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervened in favour of the Congolese authorities, so much so that following its mediation in June and July 2020 – the main and geodetic markers were installed.

The current phase now consists of installing intermediate markers, every 500m, along a 205km stretch.

On 23 August, the authorities of the border towns of Pweto (DRC) and Lupiya (Zambia) also launched a joint awareness-raising campaign to strengthen peace and security in the region.

Ultimately, “this will also facilitate cross-border trade and good relations between our two people,” says Joseph Minango, who heads the Zambian delegation working on the border demarcation. “It will not build a barrier, but rather a bridge between our two countries.”

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